Technology as a tool for Populism

While more clicks may equal more populism, no number of views will result in a reboot of fascism.

According to Mudde, “cognitive mobilization and growing inequality have created a more dissatisfied and vocal population,” and have thus led to the growth of populism in the 21st century. The rise of “new media” has allowed for the proliferation of radical political voices to reach the mainstream. The ability of the media to serve as a tool of populist mobilization has therefore transformed with the technological advents of social media and growing interconnectivity. This explains the lack of salient populist movements prior to recent years, despite the existence of fringe groups in former fascist or communist states across Europe. On the other hand, however, if new media given rise to populism today, what prevents this from devolving into fascism?

The rise of populism today is not only linked to the perceived lack of political will, a central element of fascist mobilization under the “one body” principle, but from the movement of everyday people demanding more from their government. Throughout European history, politics was oftentimes seen as a game for the elite, excluding the average worker from meaningfully engaging on issues that impact the nation. This trend is no longer: our newsfeeds are dominated with content meant to spark conversations, incite rage, and overall engage voters in the world around us. 

Defined by Mudde as “a set of ideas focused on a fundamental opposition between the people and the elite,” I believe populism has in part gained prominence due to increased online connectivity, making it easier than ever for a dissatisfied politic to mobilize against a disparaging political force. The media landscape today—be it through the traditional channels of newspaper and radio or newer models of social media—allows for a broader range of opinions and values. No longer are news outlets dominated by unitary ideological interests, liberal-democratic or otherwise: individuals of varying political affiliations are able to share our opinions with a broader audience through the rise of independent media channels, often with a low degree of oversight and “fact checking.”  

In an increasingly connected society where political messages are no longer tied down by limited technology and confined geography, I agree with Mudde’s central argument that populism is here to stay. 

By the same logic, one could argue that through the ability to mobilize large groups of individuals, fascism could see an equal rise in modern day politics. I disagree. Under a liberal democracy, I believe we will not see the likes of fascism in the West reborn. While right populism has dominated certain European elections and we can further anticipate such actors to remain on the political stage for years to come, there are important distinctions from fascism. Namely, I think Europe has learned from the miscalculations of the past, and has moved past supporting Sorel’s praises of violence as a necessary tool of the class struggle. 

What does this mean for electoral politics and governments across the continent? I think its safe to assume that populism in all its forms will continue to makes appearances in elections around Europe. An increasingly engaged populous goes hand in hand with differing opinions, some of which will push the elite to do more, to do “better.” While critics can point fingers and stamp right-wing extremists with damaging titles, Allardyce is well supported in his claim that while a single definition may be hard to pinpoint, political leaders of today do not deserve the title of fascist. 

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